Over the transom

“Michael, that is a nice shot but you missed the focus on the bear. See how the background is in focus but the bear is not? I think the bear moved and you didn’t move your autofocus bracket to keep it on the bear so the autofocus grabbed the background and not the bear.”

“My what?”

“Your autofocus bracket”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“What’s my autofocus bracket?”

“The little box in your viewfinder, probably red, that tells you what the camera is focusing on.”

“Oh, that is what that little box is for. I never knew what that was.”

“How are you focusing if you are not using the autofocus bracket?”

“Oh, I just let the camera focus where ever and then I tweak it by hand.”

“So you let the camera autofocus and then you manually unfocus to focus?”


“That make any sense to you?”

“No, but the red box usually isn’t where I want it.”

“Ah, but you can move the box to where you want it to be.”

“I’ll be darn. That makes much more sense.”


This was an actual conversation I had with a student during a critique in my last workshop. Please understand that the problem is not with the student but it is with me, the teacher. I am the one who is in the dark.

Avoiding being in the dark is the essence of effective teaching. A good teacher has to be able to figure out what his or her student doesn’t know and then teach them that. If not the teacher is an idiot, teaching way beyond the student or way below them.  This is what I have seen in many workshops; teaching based not on what the student doesn’t know but what the teacher does know.

No matter if the participants need to be taught about composition or histograms or blinkies the workshop leader has a program to present and come rain or high wind, that program is going to be presented.

A good workshop teacher tries to figure out what a student doesn’t know and then teach that. A good teacher fills in the holes, he doesn’t just heap more on hoping it will spread to where it is needed.

This would be a good point to tell you that this was Michael’s second workshop with me. It wasn’t until my 7th or 8th day with him that I figured out he didn’t know how the autofocus worked in his camera. Not very sharp of me, huh?

But this is the riddle of teaching. What don’t my students know? How can I figure out what they really need to know? What do I teach that will be most helpful to them? And what do they think they know that they actually don’t know?

People don’t know what they don’t know. We are completely ignorant of the holes that exist in our knowledge because we paste over them with weak patches and move on to more interesting things. But eventually, there is going to be a bear in your viewfinder and you are going to have to keep it in focus as it shuffles around in front of you. Best to be prepared.

Do you know what all the little dials and icons and buttons and letters mean on your camera? Do you know when they might come in handy and when you can ignore them? You don’t have to be a tech weenie you just have to have a general idea on what your camera can do. So next time you are out shooting with friends or on a workshop take the time and ask questions. The more you ask, the more you will know. Otherwise, your next furry bear will be a fuzzy bear and that isn’t good.